Renae's Story: Orphan

By: Renae Niebergall

*This story was originally posted on November 7, 2014

Orphan. This word usually creates a picture in peoples’ minds. What does your picture look like? Do they look hopeless? Unclean? Hungry? Sick? Could they look strong, loved, hopeful and confident? In my world they can. I think any child that is considered an orphan has had a hard story. A story that most people would rather not hear because they don't know what to do with the pain in creates in their hearts. Those children have probably felt hopeless, unclean, hungry and sick. But these do not define the orphan. Could the orphan be more? Could the orphan be here for YOU? What a thought.... A thought I was challenged with since being in India this week. I don't mean "Could the orphan be here for you" in a selfish "it's all about me and my needs" way but in a complex story of God's love and redemption being played out in a way that makes no sense but then you look closely and all of a sudden it makes complete sense and is the most beautiful act of love you've ever seen.

Imagine yourself in a room of 24 children from 18 months to 20 years. They've had "hard" stories in their lives. They have been thrown away, starved, infected with a deadly disease, abused... As you sit in this room you see joy, healing, deep scars, love and hope. As you sit there you hold a stack of envelopes in your lap. There are so many you can barely hold them all. The children look at you with big eyes because they hope that just one of those envelopes just might have their name on it. You start passing out envelopes and each child’s mouth drops as you approach them and not only hand them one envelope but 4 or 5 or 6. They can't believe it. They wait patiently for everyone to get their envelopes carefully checking to be sure all their "brothers and sisters" were included. And then carefully they begin opening the envelopes to reveal letters. Letters written with love from people they know and some they've never met but they know their names. Excitement fills the room and an overwhelming feeling of God's love. The room is silent for who knows how long as the children are in awe of the love they are receiving. They don't understand why they are loved but they are thankful for it. After some time the room begins to buzz. They begin sharing with one another their letters and they are so happy for one another. And then one quiet boy who rarely speaks says quietly. "We are so blessed. We have so many who love us. We have everything we need. But, there so many others that don't have anything. They don't have people who love them. We should not forget about them and we should pray that someday they too would receive the love that has found us." He is right.

Almost this exact story happened. I was in awe of this boy’s words and of his ability to see those in need greater than his. He lives a basic life but a good life. He has all his needs met and has love. Lucy, the director of Gan Sabra says to me - "the children are so blessed because of you all. Their lives have changed because they know they are loved and cherished now. They do not doubt your love for them. You come back, you show them love, you write letters - they are the luckiest children." I in turn tell Lucy how changed we are when we return home. That our lives are never the same and how much God uses our time with the kids to reveal more of himself. And then she says something I'm not soon to forget...."God has a purpose for them to be orphans - maybe His purpose was for you." For me?? For you?? "No! No! No!" is what my head wants to scream. I don't want that. I don't want to be the reason. But in Deuteronomy God says "Justice and ONLY Justice you shall seek". It doesn't say sometimes or when it is convenient or when we are comfortable we should seek justice but it pretty clearly states that we should seek it always. What if God's great plan is not only so that those living in injustice can have relief from their afflictions but so that you can be changed. A change that could never happen until you've heard the story of the orphan, until you held their hand as they cried tears of healing, until you prayed so hard for their AIDS tests to come back favorable, until you've had to say goodbye not knowing if you would see them this side of heaven again and until you've received the phone call that they've gone to be with Jesus and you won't get to hold them in your arms again before eternity. What if He knew that to mold you into the person you needed to be you needed to meet them as the orphan? The weight of that weighs heavy on me. But there is beauty in it. Through each other we find more of God. Without them I wouldn't be the person I am right now and without me they wouldn't be who they are either. We found each other and through that found God together - side by side - multiplying his great love, the redemption story in each of us and His mercy. Through tears and breathlessness I ask God tonight am I their purpose...


"Multiplied” by Need to Breathe

Your love is like radiant diamonds, bursting inside us, we cannot contain.

Your love will surely come find us, like blazing wildfire, singing your name.

God of mercy, sweet love of mine, I have surrendered to your design.

May this offering stretch across the sky, these hallelujahs be multiplied.


*Renae has served as Westport's Global Missions Director since 2008. The October 2014 trip to Gan Sabra was her last serving in this leadership role. Her heart and passion will be greatly missed in this ministry.